Sport Golf

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Top golfers opt for Moneyball stats analysis in bid for glory

Published 08/03/2016 | 02:30

Adam Scott celebrates with the WGC-Cadillac Championship trophy the Gene Sarazen Cup at Trump National, in Doral, Florida. Photo: John David Mercer/USA Today
Adam Scott celebrates with the WGC-Cadillac Championship trophy the Gene Sarazen Cup at Trump National, in Doral, Florida. Photo: John David Mercer/USA Today

The days when professional golfers were concerned essentially with only two numbers are long gone.

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Those numbers were (a) what score did I shoot? and (b) what is the amount of money written on my cheque at the end of a tournament?

By those simple criteria, the vast majority of professionals have judged their proficiency and success in the paid ranks for more than 150 years.

Those at the top of the pyramid in every era have applied themselves to winning Major championship titles and Tour titles once they had risen through the ranks, but at its core, golf is a cold, merciless, numbers game.

The big difference between the prime of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player and the generations that went before them, is this age of internet and ever-advancing technology which makes players aware of the tiny fractions that can affect outcomes.

Tour statisticians can now produce a comprehensive array of facts and figures to reveal, in minute detail, the performance by golfers in all aspects of their game from tee to green.

In a game of inches, analysis has reached forensic level, and there is a Moneyball element that has come into play.

Moneyball is the title of a book written by Michael Lewis about the Oakland Athletics baseball team general manager Billy Beane.

Beane revolutionised the recruitment of players by using a new method of evaluating potential signings based on performance statistics to create a winning team.

Padraig Harrington sees how golfers have bought in to the potential of these methods every week on Tour.

He acknowledges the benefits which players such as Brandt Snedeker and Billy Horschel have derived from the stats gurus, but does not fully subscribe to the process for himself - at least not yet.

Snedeker's name arose at a media event last Friday when Harrington was asked if the former could be a contender for the Masters should the 'Big 3'; Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, somehow fail to win the Green Jacket.

Harrington appreciates that Snedeker is a formidable competitor, and also referenced the importance the golfer places on the assistance of Mark Horton, who has been a factor in Snededker's success in the last few years.

Horton took course strategy planning to a new level for players such as Snedeker, using statistics to work out the optimum places to hit a particular green, or the area from which most putts are made depending on pin locations.

Birdies

"Essentially he (Horton) tells them 'This is where you hit it, this is how the hole plays, this is a birdie hole and the winner plays these holes this way, this is where he gets birdies...'.

"It's like, complete Moneyball. I believe Moneyball when it comes to baseball, but when it comes to my own sport, I'm a bit more intuitive.

"We're all interested in this guy and what he does, but personally I don't feel like I can play golf that way because I always work on the principle that, well, if I hit it into that trouble, even though the stats say guys make bogeys from there, then I've got a good enough short game that I won't.

"But for him (Snedeker) it certainly works, and it would be interesting to see the strategy for the Masters and to see if Augusta fits into the way they do it," said Harrington.

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy was reviewing his own statistics on the par 5s at Trump National in Doral where he finished two shots behind winner Adam Scott in the WGC-Cadillac championship.

McIlroy had a four-shot lead after four holes of the final round, but never pushed on. He ended up with 74, two-over-par and disappointed to fall short for the second successive week.

Scott struggled early on, but found his mojo in time to fire six birdies in nine holes starting from the sixth hole, and made it back-to-back wins following his Honda Classic success the previous week.

"I didn't make enough birdies. I felt like my game was OK for the most part. I didn't take advantage of the holes I should have. I couldn't birdie any of the par 5s and that's really what killed me," said McIlroy.

Frustrated he may be, but McIlroy can take plenty of positives out of his recent form. His next tournament is the Arnold Palmer Classic at Bay Hill which starts on Thursday week.

"A lot of things did go right for me. I need to just pick myself back up and get into contention again in Orlando in a couple of weeks' time and let's see if I can get the win there," said McIlroy.

This week's PGA Tour action is in the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort in Florida. Irish competitors there will be Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.

Michael Hoey is the only Irish player in the European Tour's True Thailand Classic this week.

Irish Independent

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